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The Future Is Unclear For Foreign Aid Work In Afghanistan Under The Taliban

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's catch up now on aid groups in Afghanistan, which have sprung into action in recent weeks. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports they are facing the Taliban's takeover, also a drought and the pandemic.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Vicki Aken says she received calls from the U.S. Embassy offering a chance to be evacuated, but she's staying to run the International Rescue Committee's office in Kabul.

VICKI AKEN: Our staff need support. They're feeling like the world has abandoned them and that after August 31, no one will care. And I know that's not true. I'm an American myself. I know my people care.

KELEMEN: In a webinar organized for members of Congress this week, she urged them to make sure any new sanctions on the Taliban will have exemptions for aid workers. The International Rescue Committee has worked in Afghanistan for decades, including during the last time the Taliban were in power.

AKEN: Who is running the country right now has nothing to do with the majority of people inside of Afghanistan, has nothing to do with half the population that are women and children that had no say in this and that are suffering right now. And we need to be able to provide them assistance.

KELEMEN: A lot is in flux for aid workers in Kabul. Former President Ashraf Ghani made things difficult for them before he fled Afghanistan. That's according to Jared Rowell of the Danish Rescue Council.

JARED ROWELL: The Ghani administration, particularly certain high-level offices and ministries, created a very hostile, challenging operating environment for the NGO community.

KELEMEN: Now the Taliban are writing their own rules, so he says the U.S., the U.N. and others need to use their influence to make sure non-governmental aid groups get the access they need.

ROWELL: And one of the most pressing issues is the topic of female staff. They are a vital part of the humanitarian response to ensure that we reach the entire target population, especially women and children.

KELEMEN: He says the Taliban are allowing women to work in some provinces, but it must be across the board. And aid groups need some security guarantees.

ROWELL: And assurances that the Taliban will not tamper with our beneficiary selection or demanding confidential data such as beneficiary or staff lists.

KELEMEN: Afghanistan is dependent on foreign aid, and the World Bank, which runs a multi-donor trust fund, says it has paused disbursements for now. But it is looking for ways to support those groups that continue to deliver health services and food distribution. And David Beasley, who runs the U.N.'s World Food Program, posted a video in front of some of the planes that are ready to go.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID BEASLEY: We'll have these fixed wings moving passengers, U.N. personnel, WFP, other humanitarian workers throughout Afghanistan so that we can not only maintain our operations in this time of need but also to scale up.

KELEMEN: Today's terrorist attacks only strengthen the U.N.'s resolve to help, says U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric. But he also has a message to the Taliban.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEPHANE DUJARRIC: They have a responsibility to keep U.N. premises, U.N. staff safe and secure.

KELEMEN: For now, he says, aid work continues.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.